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NHRA 50 Greatest Drivers: Number 47, Billy Meyer

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Billy Meyer simply was born to be bold. Son of Paul Meyer, founder of one of the country's largest motivational institutes, Meyer grew up on the power of positive thinking, and eventually built a successful business empire with auto racing at its hub.

As a teen-ager, Meyer burst onto the auto racing scene and made a name for himself as a top Funny Car driver. On the business end, he helped change the face of the sport with the construction of drag racing's first 'Super Track', the Texas Motorplex.

Meyer began racing go-karts at age 11 and won four championships in Texas, including a pair of state crowns. However, he knew after sitting in a Funny Car for the first time that drag racing was the venue in which he wished to compete.

Meyer's first shot at Funny Car driving came at 15, when he began taking stints behind the wheel of Bobby Steakley's Camaro. A year later, Meyer earned his Funny Car license with a series of supervised test runs at Ft. Hood Dragway, which at the time made him the sport's youngest Funny Car driver.

In 1971, his competitive career began, and, with the aid of his father's business as a sponsor, Meyer purchased his own Funny Car in late 1972. That set the stage for his '72 upset victory of the favored Chi-Town Hustler at Orange County International Raceway.

Meyer then took some time away from the sport and joined Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham in building a land-speed-record vehicle (the car eventually set the speed record in 1979 and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute). When Meyer returned to drag racing, it was like he never left. Almost instantly, he competed again on a championship level and was a threat to win from 1977 until his retirement in 1987.

Meyer won 13 NHRA national events -- at the time, making him the second-winningest Funny Car driver -- including the last he participated in, the 1987 Winston Finals. He reached at least one final per season from 1977 through 1987 and finished second three times (1980, 1982, and 1984) and third three times (1977, 1978, and 1986) in the Winston Funny Car point standings.

While Meyer's racing career was outstanding, his lasting legacy will be the Texas Motorplex. Meyer envisioned a facility like no other, and created it just south of Dallas.

Meyer didn't cut any corners while building the first major track in more than 15 years. The highlight of the facility, which opened its gates in August 1986, was the VIP tower behind the starting line that contained 24 suites. The track itself had everything, from programmable signage at the entrance and the scoreboards, to state-of-the-art lighting and permanent amenities, including air-conditioned restrooms. The all-concrete track surface instantly produced some of the best performances in drag racing.

The track became the model for renovation projects at Bandimere Speedway, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Gainesville Raceway, and Pomona Raceway. It inspired new venues such as Houston Raceway Park, Heartland Park Topeka, Route 66 Raceway, Bristol Dragway and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Outside of drag racing, Meyer built an empire that at one time included 16 businesses. Currently, Meyer holds interests in one of the largest publishing businesses in the Southwest, and is also involved in aviation purchasing and manufacturing.

NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on and through the pages of National Dragster, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11.

As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks.

Text Provided By Anthony Vestal

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.